We have all been part of the conversation. Sitting on those plastic chairs bolted to the floor at Tim Hortons. Did you hear who is sick? Did you know who lost their job? Have you heard that they are splitting up? Did you know that they have a drinking problem? Community news like this travels fast because we need something to talk about over coffee, and what better to talk about than the misfortunes of others… the struggles and trials of others. We spread the news as a way or caring, or so we think. But along with the news comes judgement. Along with the news, comes interpretation and explanation. Well, maybe they got sick because they didn’t care for themselves. They lost their job because they were uncommitted. They are splitting up because they didn’t work at it. They have that addiction problem because they just can’t get their life together.
Jesus sounds like he is sitting in a Tim Hortons today having coffee talk. Luke doesn’t tell us who, but some people are telling Jesus about the group of Galilean pilgrims who were arbitrarily murdered by Pontius Pilate’s soldiers in a show of force. And then their blood was mixed with the blood of sacrifices… making these poor people unclean in the eyes of the law, even in death. What sin did they commit to earn this kind of fate, some wonder to Jesus.
This group of some people shows us just what the culture of the time thought about the good things and bad things that happened to people. As it is so easy to do, the group of some believed that an individual was to blame for any calamity, any curse, any tragedy that befell them. They must have done something to deserve what they got. Likewise, an individual was to be lauded for any blessing, any good fortune or any good thing that befell them. Clearly they did something to earn their rewards. It is classic pull yourself up by your bootstraps thinking.
And Jesus doesn’t like it one bit.
And we get what Jesus is talking about. It seems harsh and uncaring to blame the victim. The Galileans were simple pilgrims… why blame them for what the Roman Governor ordered? We know that this is not a compassionate way to see this kind of violence.
And Jesus gives another example. A tragedy that lived deep in the memories of the people of Jerusalem, like a plane crash or terrorist attack. The tower of Siloam, a good building project ended up collapsing on 18 workers. It would’t make sense to blame the victims for such a thing.
We get what Jesus is railing against. Blaming victims of tragedy is cruel way to see the world… even if it can make some surface level sense of complex and difficult situations.
And yet, yet… our world is full of the same kind of thinking. We might not apply the logic the same way, but our world believes that an individual is mostly responsible for the good things or things that happen to them. In our coffee talk, we can be quick to blame someone for their misfortunes or to applaud someone for their luck.
And a part of us, the old sinner part of us, likes the idea. We like the idea that we are in control of our destiny. We like the idea that our lives our dictated solely by the strength of our actions. Whether is good or bad, we like the idea that we are responsible for what happens to us. We hate the idea that there are forces in the world beyond our control, forces bringing us fortune or misfortune completely outside of anything we have done. We would rather be in control, even if our control leads to tragedy and curse. We would rather tragically be God in God’s place, than admit that there might be forces beyond our control.
Like the ideas of the group of some gathered around Jesus, our ideas about our own power to control our lives doesn’t sit well with Jesus either.
As Jesus hears about the murdered he Galileans, instead of sympathetically nodding along and wringing his hands, he jumps down the throats of the messengers.
He challenges the ideas of the this group of some. He warns them. If you don’t repent of this thinking, you too might perish like the Galileans. If you don’t repent you might find yourself under a collapsing tower too.
Repent or die, Jesus seems to be saying.
Or, wait, that’s not what Jesus means.
Jesus isn’t reinforcing the idea that we are in control, that we are the masters and commanders of our own fate. Jesus trying to challenge that idea. Repent or die isn’t the message.
Instead, Jesus has a parable for this group of some. Jesus has a parable for coffee talk at Tim Horton’s.
A landowner goes out to his vineyard. To his vineyard where he has inexplicably planted a fig tree which would have too big a root system, take too much ground water, produce too much shade for grape eating birds. And this landowner is annoyed that this fig tree doesn’t produce fruit. And with classic group of some thinking, coffee talk at Tim Horton’s thinking, he condemns the tree for its failure. The tree hasn’t seized upon its fate. It hasn’t pulled itself up by its boot straps. It is a poor, scraggly, unfruitful tree deserving of what it gets. In fact, it isn’t really the land owner condemning the tree, the tree is condemning itself.
But wait, says the Gardener.
Wait, there is more to this story.
Give it another year. Give the tree a second chance. The tree is not an individual living in isolation. The Gardener sees the big picture. The Gardener sees that the tree is not solely a product of its own power to control its own fate. The Gardener knows that the soil, the weather, the pruning, the fertilizer… the circumstances that surround the tree have as much to do with its fruit bearing ability as the tree itself.
The judgement of the landowner is all about power, the power of the tree to bear fruit. But the Gardener sees the big picture and the big picture is about love. Love sees that fruit is born not just by the tree, but by the soil, by the fertilizer, by the gardener. Love sees that fruit is born in community.
The gardener offers another year, the gardener offers grace. Instead of judging whether the tree produces by its own power, the gardener wants to see now if the tree will produce by grace. The grace of love and care, the grace of tending to the big picture.
Jesus the gardener knows that it is the same with us. That we cannot blame the victim for tragedy. The good and the bad things, the curses and the rewards, the tragedy and blessings of life do not happen solely by our own power. Instead, love bears the ups and down of life. And the curses and rewards are born by the community. The blessings and tragedy are carried by the same community that gathers around coffee to talk.
Jesus the gardener says, one more year. One more year, one more chance, one more offer of grace because none of us is solely responsible for the good and bad in our lives. Rather we bear these things together, and we bear these things with God.
This is the grace of seeing the big picture. This is the love of gardening Jesus, the love of a gardening God.
Our logic of power would blame the victim for the tragedies we endure. We would hold the individual accountable for the good and bad. But love that sees the big picture offers grace and mercy, the loving gardening God says one more year.
God the gardener says, let me care for you, let me tend to your roots, nourish your soil and help you grow fruit. Don’t worry about producing fruit on your own power, but together we will grow because of love.
This Lenten season, we have seen again and again how in the relationship between love and power, God comes to meet us. And today, despite our coffee talk that says its our power that matters, it is our power that controls our fate, that rewards us or curses us… God steps back to see the big picture. God steps back to shown us that our power is not in control. But rather, love is at work in our lives. God the Gardener says, one more year, because of love the fruit will grow.
How’s that for Tim Horton’s coffee talk.
One thought on “Growing a Fig By Your Own Bootstraps”
Wow!!! What a great disposition, full of insights.
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